The Central Intelligence Agency announced late last week the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotape of the interrogations of potential terrorists.
Now the Justice Department and the CIA’s internal watchdog want to know why.
The tapes in question showed the “severe interrogations” of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two suspected al Qaeda operatives, according to the New York Times.
The announcement of the tapes’ destruction was hinted at in a memo to employees sent CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden on Thursday.
After the announcement, Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate started their own investigations.
While evidence at the CIA is authorized for destruction rather often, this case is particularly troubling for a variety of reasons.
For one, according to the New York Times, it is unclear as to whether or not John Helgerson, CIA inspector general, signed off on the destruction of the tapes, a move necessary for any destruction of evidence. The fact that he now is showing concern over the case would suggest not.
In addition, back in 2003, the CIA had been advised by top attorneys in both the White House and the Justice Department not to destroy the tapes, according to CNN. After this suggestion, the evidence was still destroyed without even the consultation of the CIA’s senior lawyer John Rizzo, which is highly unusual.
What’s particularly troubling about this move, however, is not the unorthodox manner in which the destruction was carried out, but rather the implications such a move brings with it.
These tapes were made at a time when the U.S. was experimenting with new, aggressive forms of interrogation. The CIA has acknowledged using “noise, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding” in their interrogation of Zubaydah to gather information about the operations of al Qaeda and other operatives working within U.S. borders.
Waterboarding, a interrogation technique that simulates the feeling of drowning, has been a target for controversy lately as many at home and abroad say that it amounts to torture.
The fact that the CIA destroyed this evidence of the use of this technique while it is still being examined whether or not it constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention is a questionable move at best. Even more, it also raises the question as to whether or not other, unlawful, coercive practices were used during the inmates’ questioning.
Perhaps the biggest implication of the tapes’ destruction, however, is the affect the move could have on future trials of terror suspects tracked down using evidence collected during the interrogations.
According to the New York Times, at least five detainees in Guantanamo Bay were charged based on information received by Zubaydah.
Because the only hard documentation of the interrogations have been destroyed, the credibility of the information against terror suspects that has come from Zubaydah or al-Nashiri could be called into question. With no real documentation of the manner in which these men responded physically to their interrogations, attorneys could argue that the information they gave was invented as a response to the coercive techniques of the questioners, military defense attorneys told the New York Times.
In this way, the agency that is supposed to be working round the clock has potentially put our national security at risk, by allowing a loophole for potential terrorist to sneak through.
I do not support the way the military handles prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, but seriously, if they really want to be tough on terror, the government ought, at the very least, not to be threatening the integrity of investigations by destroying evidence.
Sean Reed is a junior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.